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Full text of "Men Of Mathematics"

MEN OF MATHEMATICS
sical statements known as the Thirty-Nine Articles prescribed
by the Church of England as the minimum of religious belief
permissible to a rational mind. It may be added here, however,
that when English higher education finally unchrtched itself
from the stranglehold of the dead hand of the Church hi 1871
Sylvester was promptly given his degrees honoris causa. And it
should be remarked that in this as in other difficulties Sylvester
was no meek, long-suffering martyr. He was full of strength and
courage9 both physical and moral, and he knew how to put up
a devil of a fight to get justice for himself - and frequently did.
He was in fact a born fighter with the untamed courage of a
lion.
In 1831, when he was just over seventeen, Sylvester entered
St John's College, Cambridge. Owing to severe illnesses his
university career was interrupted, and he did not take the
mathematical tripos till 1837. He was placed second. The man
who beat him was never heard of again as a mathematician,
Not being a Christian, Sylvester was ineligible to compete for
Smith's prizes.
In the breadth of his intellectual interests Sylvester resembles
Cayley. Physically the two men were nothing alike. Cayley,
though wiry and foil of physical endurance as we have seen, was
frail in appearance and shy and retiring in manner. Sylvester,
short and stocky, with a magnificent head set firmly above
broad shoulders, gave the impression of tremendous strength
and vitality, and indeed he had both. One of his students said
he might have posed for the portrait of Hereward the Wake in
Charles Kingsley's novel of the same name. As to interests out-
side of mathematics, Sylvester was much less restricted .and
far more liberal than Cayley. His knowledge of the Greek and
Latin classics in the originals was broad and exact, and he
retained his love of them right up to his last illness. Many of his
papers are enlivened by quotations from these classics. The
quotations are always singularly apt and really do illuminate
the matter in hand.
The same may be said for his allusions from other literatures-
It might amuse some literary scholar to go through the four
volumes of t&e collected Mathematical Papers and reconstruct